Zoë's 2012 Challenge, Part 2
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A bit late, but I wanted to start a new thread for the second quarter of the year. This message will contain a list of all the books I've read for the year; the second message will be a list of all my acquisitions (hopefully not much longer than the reading list); and the third will be my monthly goals.
Books Read in 2012
1. A Feast for Crows
2. Talent is Overrated
3. A Dance with Dragons
4. The Ahhiyawa Texts
5. Uncommon Criminals
6. Ancient Babylonian Medicine
7. King Hammurabi of Babylon
8. The Book Thief
9. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
10. Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
11. Writing, Law, and Kingship in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia
14. Julie of the Wolves
15. You Are an Ironman
16. Out of Sight, Out of Time
17. The Trojans and Their Neighbours
20. Some Girls: My Life in a Harem
21. Running with the Kenyans
22. Marcelo in the Real World
24. Eat and Run
25. The Drowned Cities
26. The Unseen Guest
27. First Marathons
28. The Snow Child
29. *His Majesty's Dragon
30. Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization
31. *Throne of Jade
32. The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty
33. *Black Powder War
34. *Empire of Ivory
35. *Victory of Eagles
36. Our Kind of People
37. *Tongues of Serpents
38. Crucible of Gold
39. *Into Thin Air
40. Brain Rules for Baby
41. Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam
42. The Lost City of Z
43. One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com
46. The Future of Us
47. Emerging Arab Voices
48. Follow Me! Creating a Personal Brand with Twitter
49. The Shadow Scholar: How I Made a Living Helping College Kids Cheat
The Voluntourist (ER)
No Coins, Please (already read, already owned)
I Saw Ramallah (BookCrossing - Madeline)
Lioness Rampant (already read, already owned)
Let's Go San Francisco
Lonely Planet Discover San Francisco
Lonely Planet Discover California (Vine)
Lonely Planet Pocket San Francisco (Vine)
The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture
The New Oxford American Dictionary
Greece in the Making
A Survey of the Almagest (gift)
Geminos' Introduction to the Phenomena
The Uruk World System
Ritual Texts for the Afterlife
The Persians: An Introduction
Brotherhood of Kings
The Man Who Deciphered Linear B
27 on July 8
Planned Reads by Month
A Dance with Dragons (12in12 Popular 2011; TIOLI Dragon Appreciation)
Nothing to Envy (12in12 Off the Shelf; TIOLI Narrative Non-Fiction)
Terrier (12in12 Popular 2006)
Bloodhound (12in12 Off the Shelf)
Miracle in the Andes (12in12 Off the Shelf; TIOLI Winter Scene)
The Book Thief
A Little Princess
Shades of Grey
Read but unplanned
King Hammurabi of Babylon
Crucible of Gold
In the Bleak Midwinter
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling
The Hidden Gallery
Marcelo in the Real World
The Unseen Guest
Read but unplanned
Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
So, I'm obviously a bit behind for the first quarter: with only 12 books read, I'm on pace to hit only 48 for the year. January was the worst month, though, and I'm hoping things will pick up even more as the year goes on. And I'm happy with the books that I have read, even if there haven't been a lot of them.
On a brighter note, I'm doing much better with personal acquisitions. I've only bought three novels this year, which I think is very impressive. I may still be acquiring a lot of school-related books, but that's completely different....
ETA: Oh no, I forgot one duplicate of a favourite novel that I bought for a dollar. Oh well.
Hello, Zoe, this is a fine, shiny new thread you have here. And, if you don't mind me saying, don't worry too much about pace. As you say, enjoying the books is the important thing. Looking forward to your next one, whenever it may come. :)
The first thread says your favorite books of 2011 will be in the fourth post and I'm still waiting!
Oops! That was some lazy copying on my part. Last year's favourites were in my previous thread, but here they are again (and I've deleted the incriminating comment from my original message here ;)):
Best reads of 2011:
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (super-interesting and quick. I love a good controversy.)
A Game of Thrones and the next couple of books
A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York
Moonwalking with Einstein
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You and following series
I also really enjoyed The Mysterious Howling and Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series, but they were rereads.
A Race Like No Other was potentially a life-changing read; it made the New York City Marathon seem like something normal people can do, and I'm actually looking at taking part next year....
Thanks for the support on the low numbers read. I did finish Fire by Kristin Cashore yesterday, and will write up a review hopefully in the near future. For now, a preview: I really enjoyed this book and recommend it strongly!
Lovely new thread, Zoe. I agree, the pace isn't the thing; the enjoyment is!
10> Did you like Graceling? I can't for the life of me recall!
I need to reread it, because I felt like I read it so fast the first time through that I missed some things, and while I enjoyed it a lot, it was almost like the fast read was hiding problematic elements - a bit like my first read of Twilight, both of which I read in a single evening. But I don't want to reread it and discover that I hate it!
I read Graceling a long time ago, so I don't really remember a lot about it. I know I read through it really fast too, though, and enjoyed it a lot at the time, but didn't find it too memorable afterward. And I was annoyed that there was a whole new problem introduced just when I thought everything had been resolved.
Yeah, I think the only thing I find memorable about it - I guess it's 2 years since I read it? more? - was the nontraditional resolution to the romance plot. Maybe I should read it again at some point this summer. I keep putting off Fire because even though it's a not-sequel, I want to have reread Graceling first.
Hi, everyone! Thanks for checking in :)
So, I kept putting off the Fire review because I wanted to make it really good, but I think at this point I'd better just throw together some random thoughts and move on.
13. Fire by Kristin Cashore. This is a prequel to Cashore's Graceling, which I tore through years ago but didn't find very memorable after the fact. So I figured I'd enjoy the book, but wasn't in a huge hurry to read it, and eventually just borrowed it from the library. Now that I've read it, I'm thinking I may have to buy my own copy after all, and I'll probably purchase Bitterblue new in hardcover to support the author.
So, this means I liked Fire a lot. It was very different from Graceling, being set in almost an entirely different world. In the Dells there are "monsters", brightly-coloured but potentially more deadly versions of regular creatures. Fire is the only surviving human monster, with a beauty that makes weak-minded people helpless before her and an ability to read and influence other people's thoughts and feelings. She's obviously very powerful, but reluctant to use her power and in many ways ashamed of it because of the horrible example set by her father.
Much of this book is about Fire's struggle to come to terms with herself, and I enjoyed seeing how she adapted to a new environment and eventually opened herself up to other people. I also really appreciated the fact that many of the major conflicts in the book were mental. It's a YA novel, so there's almost inevitably a romance angle, but with none of the "OMG he's so hot!" aspects that you might expect. The romance is based on an intellectual and emotional connection, and I found that incredibly refreshing.
In other ways, too, this is unlike your typical YA novel. The YA classification actually surprised me sometimes, because Fire, despite being seventeen in theory, acts a lot older and has concerns that might seem more fitting to someone in their mid-twenties. I could easily relate, for example, to her reaction to seeing people around her getting pregnant: she desperately wanted children herself, but couldn't have any, because she didn't want to bring another potentially destructive creature like herself into the world. I don't share the latter concern for myself, but I do look jealously at my friends' cute children on Facebook while my own life is delayed by at least six years thanks to graduate school. But at seventeen, this wasn't something that I really thought about at all.
So, I can see this as a book that would appeal to older readers of YA: the world is interesting and fresh, the romance has depth, and the more mature protagonist is easy to relate to. I do wonder a bit about how much it would appeal to actual YAs, but that's not really my concern.
14. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. I'm making a bit more of an effort to read Newbery winners this year, and this was the 1972 winner. Julie/Miyax is an Eskimo* girl who runs away from a bad home life and finds herself lost and alone in the middle of the tundra. She manages to survive by befriending a wolf pack and using various traditional skills, and is ultimately faced with a conflict between traditional ways and the modern world.
This is a short book, and I'm glad I read it, but there were points when I found myself wishing that it were non-fiction instead. I'd like to know more about traditional Arctic culture and survival skills and so on. I keep reading children's books, but I keep coming away from them a bit disappointed. Oh well.
*I was taught my whole life that this word was pejorative and that "Inuit" should be used instead, but apparently Inuit only refers to a certain subgroup and there's no general word other than Eskimo. Sigh.
#19 For 'thrown together, random thoughts' that was a very helpful review, thank you. I read Graceling a while ago and was a bit underwhelmed by it. It sounds like I should give Cashore another chance and try Fire. I've just looked it up on my library catalogue and noticed they have it catalogued under adult fiction.
>21 souloftherose: Thanks, Heather! It sometimes seems like I'm just incapable of writing quickly; I think I ended up spending at least half an hour on the review even though I had meant just to get it over with. I hope you enjoy the book if you do read it.
>22 The_Hibernator: Rachel, from what I can understand of the wikipedia article, it seems like it's a matter of geography as much as time. Apparently all the, er, Eskimos in Canada are actually Inuit, so they can just promote the use of that term instead. But in Alaska there are other groups as well, and there's no other term that includes them all, so Eskimo has continued to be used in the United States. Or something like that.
Always fun to find another Newbery reader - I read Julie of the Wolves last year and enjoyed it, but, like you, I'd like to know more.
23: It sometimes seems like I'm just incapable of writing quickly; I think I ended up spending at least half an hour on the review even though I had meant just to get it over with.
I'd be thrilled if I could write a review in only half an hour.
15. You Are an Ironman by Jacques Steinberg. This is a non-fiction account of six "regular people" who decided to participate in an Ironman: that's 2.4 miles of swimming, followed by 112 miles of biking, and then a marathon, all to be completed within 17 hours. I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it, because I find it encouraging to read accounts of fairly normal people who manage to do impressive things. For a while, though, I was putting it off because I own another book by this author that I still haven't gotten around to reading: The Gatekeepers, about the college admissions process. It seemed sort of silly to pick up another book when I still had the first one waiting, even though the topics are completely different.
Since I had a major endurance event coming up this past weekend, though--my first half marathon, which I finished in 2:30:24, yay!--I thought I could use some inspiration. What I was about to do was pretty insignificant compared to the craziness of the Ironman, and I found that reassuring.
The book itself was interesting and fast-paced, and pretty much what you'd expect from this sort of thing. I enjoyed reading the stories of these people, who they were, what had led them to the Ironman, how they faced the ups and downs of training, etc. There were some moments at first when I found it a bit difficult to keep track of who was who, but that didn't actually hinder the reading experience, and I eventually managed to connect the names with the stories: "oh, he's the teacher; he's the heart-attack guy; he's the double-lung-transplant recipient".
It was also interesting to find out about the more detailed workings of an Ironman race. For example, I was a bit surprised to hear that in addition to the overall 17-hour cut-off, there are multiple fairly aggressive cut-offs throughout that result in disqualification if they aren't met. Several of the competitors in the book had issues with the swim (goggle problems, or just being very very cold at the end of it) and almost missed the cut-off there, but ended up finishing the overall race with more than an hour to spare, and it made me wonder why the intermediate targets weren't a bit more relaxed. The biking has to be done with 6.5 hours to spare for the marathon, which seems like a very generous time, so that a lot of walking in the marathon isn't a problem--but just getting to the run start in time can be a big challenge. Anyway, it just made me wonder about how they decided these things.
In the end, I came away from this book feeling calmer about my own half-marathon, and also a bit inspired: I'd definitely like to try a triathlon at some point (though at a much shorter distance!), but the logistics of it mean that it won't be happening any time soon. Just getting a decent bike would be an issue when I move between three or four different locations in the course of every year, and finding opportunities to swim in open water is non-trivial... not to mention that I'm a terrible swimmer! Still, the seed has been sown....
I'd recommend this book to people who like reading about this sort of thing; you know who you are. If you don't generally read about or participate in endurance sports, I'd suggest starting with Born to Run instead, for a very inspirational and potentially life-changing read.
Oh, and I meant to add one other thing that came up in the book, and ties in with the earlier discussion about Inuit/Eskimos: what about the use of the word "Indian"? This seems like such a misleading term, especially as there are more and more *actual* Indians in North America. I certainly know more South Asians than natives, and I almost always have to think twice when the word "Indian" comes up without a clear context.
It's so instinctive for me to say "Native American" that it throws me for a loop when I see the word "Indian" used for them. I've also always called Inuit/Eskimos "Native American".
28: half marathon, which I finished in 2:30:24, yay!
Congrats! Seems you're hooked... :-)
>31 qebo: Seems you're hooked... :-)
Don't worry, I'm already planning an intervention.
Oh, congrats on the marathon! I'm so impressed with people who can do such things; it must feel like you've really accomplished something great!
:P to Nora, and thanks to Katherine* and Amber! Also, Amber, I'm naturally a terrible runner--i.e., I once had my mother write a note to get me out of track and field day at school because I hated it so much--so if I can do it, anyone can!
*I can never, ever remember if it's a C or a K. I'm really sorry if I manage to get it wrong more than half of the time.
> 31, 34
*I can never, ever remember if it's a C or a K. I'm really sorry if I manage to get it wrong more than half of the time.
Katherine/Catherine, can you change your screen name to kebo or cebo? ;)
34: I can never, ever remember if it's a C or a K
You got it right, the K and e and everything. :-)
38: can you change your screen name to kebo or cebo
Aaaack! It's the initials of the cats of some years ago. I cannot slight Q.
34: I once had my mother write a note to get me out of track and field day at school because I hated it so much--so if I can do it, anyone can!
So what got you from this to a half marathon?
I had made various attempts at running a few years ago to be able to do other things that I enjoyed, like playing soccer, but the big push came when I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro a couple of summers ago. After I had paid my $1600 for the seven-day climb, I wanted to do everything I could to increase my chances of succeeding! And one of the things I read was that you should be able to run for 30 minutes without getting out of breath, so I started working on that. I didn't actually get to that point before the climb, but I made a lot of progress, and I did manage to get to the top of the mountain in the end (even if I had to be dragged a bit on the last day). After that I felt like I could do anything, so I kept trying to run. I had also read Born to Run at some point before the climb, and I found it very encouraging.
Then at some point I found out that running was one activity where it's possible to get medals just for completing an event, and I really like medals (you can see some pretty marathon finisher's medals at www.262medals.com). Partially inspired by that, I decided to sign up for a 5k race last summer, and a 10k in October. And then I was hooked. I still like getting medals, but I also like that running has very measurable progress markers: I know how fast I've run at every distance, and I can see myself getting faster. I can also see my position in races, and try to do a bit better next time. And so on.
The half marathon only happened, though, because at some point I realized that those distances don't have to be run continuously. It was okay to walk through every water station, and even to walk a bit on the hills, and it *still* counted as a success; I had gone the distance, I had earned my medal, and I had a time that I could try to beat next time. I wasn't anywhere near the slowest, either; something like 4700 out of 7000.
Other people should try it :) *cough*Nora*cough*
I have a very awkward, shuffling, shambling gait and me trying to run looks vaguely reminiscent of a normal person falling down the stairs.
Congrats on your half!! That's a great time.
I went with friends to NO for the Rock-n-Roll tour in early March. I was too intimidated to have signed up, but after seeing these girls run/walk it, I wished I had! I'm inspired to try for the one in September (the next one held close to me).
Oh girl, the only time I run is if someone is trying to steal my Girl Scout cookies. Or, really, I'm a sharer, so not even then. But good for you! That is awesome stuff.
From another late starter: congratulations on the half marathon!
I've also thought about triathlons, and have the same reservations you do. One, I can't swim worth a darn so I'll be starting from zero there; and two, the bike the bike the bike: expense, logistics, maintenance.
I am with Nora on the couch eating potato chips. Even if I wanted to, neither my bad left hip or my two bad knees would allow to do a marathon, half or whole!
Impressive first half-marathon. I'm sort of interested in doing something like that, up to now I've worried too much about injury. I want a t-shirt too!
>45 UnrulySun: UnrulySun, I hope you do decide to give it a try! It made such a difference to me when I realized that the important thing wasn't running without stopping, but just starting up again after every break. I remember when I first started running, I couldn't do a mile and a half without plenty of breaks, and I was happy when I eventually managed to build up to 3 miles continuously... but then I stopped progressing for a while, and I had to look back on what had changed. I realized that at first, I had run until I was too tired/out of breath to continue and then started running again after a short break, but once I had moved on to running continuously, I had thought that I was done as soon as I stopped to walk. That was a mistake, and as soon as I allowed myself to take brief walking breaks as needed, I was able to go much farther and be much happier about the experience.
>48 swynn: swynn, I remembered another problem I have with potential triathlons too: I don't actually like going very fast on a bike. Just on a regular hybrid bike without clips, I end up braking a lot as I go down hills, so I can't imagine that I'd be happy clipping in to a road bike. And yet, as you say, still....
>49 qebo: Katherine, the shirts are actually starting to be a space problem for me.... I'm thinking I'll send them off to my "off site storage" (aka, my parents' house) when I see my family next weekend ;)
>50 alcottacre: Stasia, there are plenty of people who just walk races, and there are shorter distances too! I don't know how bad your knee and hip are, but I wouldn't be surprised if you could walk a 5k.
>51 avatiakh: Kerry, I wouldn't worry too much about getting injured, as long as you build up slowly and know what you're capable of. I planned from the beginning to walk through every water station because I'm not a super-runner, and I think that helped to give my joints a break and also make sure that I wasn't getting dehydrated. I don't know if you've done any shorter races, but if not, I'd start with a 5k and build up from there :)
Oh, and all your encouraging comments distracted me from my original intention--to post about my latest read!
16. Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter. So, I've been doing really well at buying fewer books and instead borrowing them from the library, but that sometimes leads to problems--like when a hold comes in and there's a long list of people after me, so the book is not renewable, but it's also not exactly the book that I'm in the mood for at the moment. That's what happened here. I'd enjoyed the rest of Carter's Gallagher Girls series (much better than her Heist Society books, imho), but not quite enough that I wanted to buy the latest for myself as soon as it came out in hardcover. I requested it from the library instead, and was pretty early on the holds list.
But once it actually came, it wasn't exactly what I felt like reading. I put it off for a while, but it was due tomorrow, so I figured I should pick it up. And it was entertaining enough, just not anything really special. These books are set in a spy school for girls, so there was lots of action and intrigue and some surprising twists, but I just wasn't wowed; it felt entirely average. I think part of it is just that I wasn't in the right mindset to do justice to the story, though; fans of the series will certainly want to continue with it.
Another problem with my focus on library books is that I end up reading more YA than I want to, because I know I can finish it on a tight deadline; with most books, I would have just given up instead of getting started on Friday night with a fixed Tuesday deadline looming. Oh well.
I can relate to your issues with library books, Zoe. I recently had a hold become available that I was not in the mood for, but had to grab it while I could and finish it before the deadline. (I had waited so long for it, I'd forgotten that I'd placed the hold!) I think the awkward timing may have led to my not liking it as much as I might have otherwise.
Sorry that your latest read wasn't what you were in the mood for, Zoe. I have always used the library far more than buying books so I don't run into this issue as much. But it's rare for me to pick up a book I've had on hold for a while or a shiny new book and not be excited. Maybe it's a conditioning thing...
Good review of You Are an Ironman. I think that is one that my fiance would like and I might even read too
And congrats on finishing your race with such great time. I've done a couple 5km runs and I find I walk more than I run, but it's a nice feeling to finish it no matter what the final time is
>28 _Zoe_: Yes, congrats on your half-marathon. I tried a half-triathlon last year and it was a lot of fun. I thought training for that was a lot of fun because I got to work out so many different muscles instead of just focusing on running. Then again, it also meant that I wasn't particularly good at any one part and especially bad at swimming! :)
As always, apologies for falling horribly behind on this thread. Once I'm even one review behind, it sometimes feels like a chore to catch up. Also, I don't have the right cover for my next book, which was a bit of a deterrent.
17. The Trojans and Their Neighbours by Trevor Bryce. This is a very readable and up-to-date account of what we know about ancient Troy and its place in the ancient Anatolian and Aegean world. Worth reading for anyone interested in the subject.
18. *Graceling by Kristin Cashore. This was a reread in preparation for Bitterblue, and I'm very glad that I did reread it. I actually think I appreciated it even more the second time around. And of course, it was helpful to have all the characters fresh in my mind. I own this book, but ended up needing to borrow it from the library because my copy is stored at my parents' house in a different country. Oops.
19. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. I was very much looking forward to this book after reading Cashore's Fire and Graceling in preparation. I have to say, though, that I came away from it pretty disappointed, for a variety of reasons. (Warning: there will be spoilers here for the preceding books.) Cashore's concept is pretty ambitious: Bitterblue has grown up and is trying to rule a kingdom that had suffered under her evil, mind-controlling father for 35 years. Her advisors and many of the people around her still aren't in their right minds. Understandably, trying to function in this situation could be pretty frustrating, but I felt that Cashore brought that frustration a bit too close to the reader. It was hard to appreciate the story when many of the characters were so erratic and the protagonist was just caught in a bubble of confusion. Adding to that, I hardly recognized Bitterblue herself; she seemed like a quietly competent child when we met her last, but as an 18-year-old she seemed sort of clueless. I'm not sure what she was supposed to have been doing for the past 8 years, besides sitting under a mountain of paper, but I found it strained credibility that she had absolutely no idea about the layout of her own castle, barely remembering that her father had had an art gallery and possibly never having known the location of various more functional sub-buildings. Similarly, she had no idea who any of the people were, and had apparently been content just to sit around signing papers until the story began.
There were some promising parts, like when Bitterblue started sneaking out of the palace to interact with regular people in a way reminiscent of Disney's Princess Jasmine, because the regular people actually had reasonable personalities, unlike the palace staff. But eventually that ended, and we were back with all the crazy people in the palace. I just found the whole thing sort of frustrating, and read on because I wanted to find out how it all got resolved rather than because I was enjoying the story. Even the resolution, though, wasn't particularly satisfying; it seemed anticlimactic after all the confusion and intrigues, and I didn't feel like I had really learned that much more about the mysteries of Leck's reign by the end of it.
I'll reflect on the story a bit more in the next few days, but I think my feeling of disappointment will remain.
I don't have the right cover for my next book, which was a bit of a deterrent.
If you type the ISBN of your copy into Google image search with quotations so you get only exact matches you can find the right cover. Sometimes...
Sorry to hear you didn't like Bitterblue. I'm on the waiting list at the library. Reviews seem to be mixed here on LT.
>60 Ape: Oh, that's a good idea. I'll give it a try eventually.
>61 Morphidae: Yeah, reviews seem very mixed on Amazon too. I'm looking forward to hearing what you and others in this group think about it. There are various issues that I'd like to discuss in more detail, if I can remember them.
Spoilers for Graceling:
One thing that struck me in the afterword is that Cashore apologizes for not thinking about disability politics when she wrote Graceling, so that when
I'm not sure what I think of this. Morph, did you find it offensive? Maybe I'm just not sufficiently in tune with disabilities myself, but going blind is one of my biggest fears and I'll certainly feel like I'm missing something if that ever happens, even though I'll still be able to live a worthwhile life. I also wonder just to what extent authors need to be politically correct and avoid any possible thing that might offend a particular group.
Basically, I really liked Graceling and I wonder how it would have turned out if Cashore had been more focused on political correctness. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it so much. But maybe I'm just a bad person.
I'm usually oblivious to things like disabilities, gender issues, etc. in books. So, no, I didn't find it offensive.
I think some people just have a particular issue that they are sensitive to. For instance, if they are "into" feminism, they might get more offended by how women are portrayed.
I usually don't have any soapboxes when I'm reading. I just want a good story.
Thanks, it makes me feel better to hear that I'm not the only one who's more concerned with a good story.
I just hope that Cashore won't focus more on being politically correct than on telling a good story in the future.
Possible tiny spoilers for Bitterblue:
I'm now wondering whether an extreme focus on political correctness also explains why so many people in Bitterblue turned out to be gay. At first I thought it was a bad attempt to eliminate potential suitors: we already know some very nice, eligible royal bachelors from Graceling, but the romance might not have been so exciting if Bitterblue had just married one of them. But there's one couple that's pretty irrelevant; we don't even find out that they're a couple until their part in the story is almost done. And I don't think any of the straight secondary characters end up pairing off.
Basically, there's one gay couple that's worth including because we already know some of their history and want to see them getting their happily-ever-after; there's one guy who turns out to be gay just so that Bitterblue won't marry him, and there's a a third couple who seem to exist just to make a statement. And I'm not so much a fan of characters who are there just to make a statement, even though the statement happens to be one that I personally agree with.
I really wish Cashore hadn't included that comment about political correctness in the acknowledgements. Realizing that she values political correctness over the story has made me look at the whole thing in a different light.
Further thoughts about Bitterblue (again, with some spoilers, and spoilers for Fire as well). Sorry for the extended comments; I'm still trying to figure out how such a highly-anticipated work could turn out to be so disappointing.
I think one of the problems may be that Cashore is more concerned with making comments about our world than about dealing with difficult issues in the context of her world. It's not that she doesn't face these difficult issues; characters often think about them, but I didn't really get a sense of satisfactory resolution. Here are a couple of examples:
There's a lot of focus on overthrowing monarchs who abuse their power, and on providing better systems of government for these kingdoms. Bitterblue herself reads from a book called "Monarchy is Tyranny" that her father had tried to destroy. But there's an obvious conflict here: Bitterblue herself is queen, and intends to remain queen. She realizes that this is a conflict, but doesn't really do anything about it. There's not even any suggestion of instituting a different system of government upon her death. This is in clear contrast to Fire, who sees that the power of monsters is too unpredictable and so takes difficult and decisive action to ensure that there won't be any more human monsters in the world.
In a similar vein, Cashore makes a point of emphasizing that homosexuality is okay. Bitterblue even suggests that Raffin may eventually be able to change the laws in the Middluns to allow gay marriage. But there's no real resolution to the much trickier question of what will happen when it's the king who's gay, and yet is expected to produce an heir. Of course there are various possible solutions, but these weren't really explored--and I couldn't help feeling that this was because the focus was really on our world, and not on the Seven Kingdoms. For us, it's enough to say that gay marriage should be allowed. But I'm more interested in exploring the political consequences of various decisions in their world than in listening to general moralizing, even when it's a point of view that I happen to support.
(Repeating a bit what I said before, to incorporate it into a more review-like format:)
I don't know if I'm way off-base here, but there's a comment in the acknowledgements about Po's disability that really made me realize how focused Cashore is on political correctness. And when I started looking back at Bitterblue with the idea that Cashore was very concerned with political messaging, a lot of the less satisfying parts of the book seemed to make more sense to me. I think that Bitterblue isn't so much about taking a new world and seeing how it will develop on its own as it is about imposing certain attitudes from our own world into a fantasy setting, and I'm not sure that the result is entirely satisfactory.
I'd like to know what things will look like 50 years from now in the Middluns and in Monsea. There are some difficult political issues that will have to be resolved, and I don't think that the ending of Bitterblue really comes close to that resolution. The really hard decisions are left for the future.
I've seen some people say that the problem with Bitterblue is that there's too much politics and not enough action. I both agree and disagree. I think there's too much politics only because the politics isn't done very well; Cashore is stronger when she writes a more traditional quest narrative, like that in Graceling. Politics and intrigue require more nuance and shades of grey, and I didn't really see a lot of that here. There was plenty of confusion, yes, but in the end, every character was either purely good or purely bad at heart, regardless of what evils Leck may have forced them to perform. And I'd like to have seen at least the good characters making more difficult decisions: Will Raffin choose duty or love? What will happen if Bitterblue's heir turns out to be evil? (Because we saw in the prologue of Fire that Leck's evilness didn't come from childhood abuse or anything; he was literally just born that way.)
Sorry for making my additional thoughts longer than the original review. One thing I can say is that Bitterblue didn't leave my thoughts when I finished it: I'm still turning it over and over in my mind a day later, trying to figure out how a work that I was so excited about could have left me feeling so disappointed.
Zoe, I enjoyed Bitterblue more than you did, but you have a good point. I think Cashore does let political correctness overshadow her story (I didn't read the acknowledgements, however - did she really get flack because Po can sense his surroundings? This is fantasy...) I think I would have to reread the book to get such a clear response to it, though. My biggest beef was that she'll randomly leave the castle when it suits her - goes for days without it, and then suddenly - oh, right, she needs to get out to advance the plot. (But I read fast, and I didn't quite trust myself not to have missed signals.) I'm still not sure if I would reread it, and unfortunately I think it's the type of book I'll like less once I've thought more about it.
I'll copy out the exact passage when I get home, but apparently one of her early readers did comment on the disability issue. So Cashore, newly informed, now says that it's a common trope in fantasy and sci-fi for there to be a magical cure for disabilities, and that it's offensive to disabled people because it suggests that they aren't whole as they are, and that she regrets that she wasn't informed about disability politics when she wrote the book.
I wonder if I should have skipped the acknowledgements too. The weird thing is that I was really enjoying the book at the beginning, especially when Bitterblue first started leaving the castle, and then I got a bit tired of it and was looking forward to the resolution (probably once she started spending more time in the castle again), and then when the resolution actually came it was such a let-down that it sort of left me in shock. I really didn't dislike the book that much while reading it, only after the fact.
I really didn't dislike the book that much while reading it, only after the fact.
Yeah, that was true for me too. I liked it just fine while I was reading. It was only afterwards when I had to think back and try to review it that I was sort of stumped, and left wondering if I would reread it. I suppose I would reread the whole series...and maybe my opinion would change.
now says that it's a common trope in fantasy and sci-fi for there to be a magical cure for disabilities, and that it's offensive to disabled people because it suggests that they aren't whole as they are
Well, if we're really going to get into tropes now, there's the trope that a magical plant (or, alternatively, an amulet) will keep you from getting pregnant... (I scratched my head when I first read that in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but since then I've seen how very true it is)
So are those who are arguing against the disability/super power trope basically saying "people with disabilities aren't allowed to have super powers?"
I think they can have superpowers, but only so long as those powers don't compensate for the disability. So, it would be okay for someone who couldn't walk to be a mindreader, but not for them to be able to fly.
So those arguing against the disability trope also want their characters in books to have limitations. Interesting logic.
Yes, because the whole point is that there's nothing wrong with having limitations.
Assuming that I understand all this correctly.
Isn't there a difference between accepting a limitation that can't be changed and enforcing a meaningless one?
I guess the problem is that in fantasy, we can't automatically assume that any limitation is unchangeable. So how does acceptance of disability fit into a fantasy world?
I understand the ideas of acceptance and inclusion, but I'm certain that on the other hand, there are plenty of people with disabilities who like to read about characters overcoming their own. Just as some people enjoy reading about characters who overcome racial prejudice or emotional insecurities or disease or addiction. I find it absurd to try to impose such conventions on literature, especially the fantasy genre.
I agree with #76. I think that if you want to argue for a diversity of portrayals, that's one thing, but to tell a fantasy author that her conception of a made-up world is offensive seems more than a bit of a stretch to me. Now, I have very limited experience with blindness so I may not be as sensitive to such things as another might. But it seems to me that it would be more effective for people who took issue with that portrayal to write something treating it in the way they would like to see it dealt. If the book were in a realistic genre, I would expect some research to have gone into it, and a realistic portrayal, but again... for fantasy? It's been a few years since I read Graceling, but while I was reading Bitterblue, it seemed to me a natural extension of his Grace
I agree with both of you. But I think what bothers me even more than someone complaining about the situation is that the author seemed to fully accept that and to wish that she had written something less offensive. I'll have to check her exact words to be sure, but that was certainly the impression that I got.
>78 Whisper1: Hi, Linda! Thanks for stopping by.
Really interesting discussion going on here. I've only read Graceling and have put her others on a low priority 'to read' list. I think when a writer feels compelled to make a statement like that then there is something not quite right going on for the reader.
Scifi writer Robert Sawyer portrays blindness in an interesting way at the beginning especially of his trilogy www.wake, though the character then regains her sight through technology, but that was necessary plot development so not done just to tick PC boxes.
I've like the Robert Sawyer books that I've read, so maybe I'll have to give that one a try.
I'd definitely recommend reading Fire, even if not so much Bitterblue. I read Graceling several years ago, and also wasn't in too much of a hurry to read more, but when I read Fire for the first time last month I liked it so much that I decided to purchase my own copy of Bitterblue when it came out and to reread Graceling in preparation.
79: Yes, it would be nice if the author was confident enough to stand by her words and world as she envisioned them. A nod of acknowledgment to those who may be ofended is fine, but to wish her work different because of their opinion is a bit much.
I have a copy of Fire as one of our book chains brought in a few container loads of remaindered YA books from the States last year and I was amazed to find beautiful hardcover copies of recently published US writers such as Cashore and Billingsley etc selling for only 5NZD each. I've heard that Fire is better than Graceling, still low priority as I'm trying to catch up on all the Australian and NZ YA that I haven't been keeping up with.
What I liked especially about www.wake was that Caitlin's blindness gave her a perception of the internet that sighted people couldn't see. Sawyer was invited to talk at google headquarters after writing this book.
Here's the passage about disability (with spoilers for Graceling):
"Thanks to (names), who, after reading a late draft of Bitterblue, counseled me on the matter of Po, disability politics, and whether there was any way to counter the consequences of my making Po's Grace grow so big that it compensated for his
It's not entirely clear whether someone complained to her or whether she came to this realization by some other means.
Interestingly, Cashore wrote a bit about the issue on her blog today. She also says, "I wish I'd thought more carefully about race when I first created these worlds, been more explicit, thoughtful, and careful about creating characters of color. I intend to do so in future, and expect to create the opportunity for it with the next book I write in my fantasy world."
So, this pretty much confirms my assessment that she's hugely focused on inserting politically-correct statements into her novels. I can't say I'm really a fan, at least so long as she can't manage to do it in a way that seems natural.
Worthwhile for authors to become aware of their assumptions and cliches, but somehow "I didn't realize, and now I will fix it" seems a recipe for token characters. (Not that I've read the book.)
>86 qebo: seems a recipe for token characters
Exactly! Though I have to admit, what is she supposed to do when she's under fire, say "deal with it suckers?" If she's going to be a successful writer, she has to keep her audience in mind a little bit. Unfortunately keeping her audience too much in mind takes away some of her creative power. Where to draw the line? I guess it's: are you an artist, or are you a career novelist?
Yeah, I don't have a problem with an author being aware of what she's writing. But it's easy to go too far down the path of "now I have to insert this character with this issue just to make a statement", and then the story starts suffering.
I don't remember the hair colour of Graceling's protagonist. Similarly, I don't remember any explicit discussions of skin colour (in my mind Katsa is fair and Po is a bit darker, but I don't know if there's any textual basis for that). And I'm just fine with a world where skin colour isn't even worth mentioning.
I've also come to the conclusion that Bitterblue herself should have been gay. If you want to make a statement about homosexuality, I think the best way to do it is via the protagonist in your romance(-ish) novel. Then the surrounding issues can actually be addressed in a meaningful way (again, what about the monarch producing an heir?). Having one character tell another, "By the way, you know those two minor characters? They're a couple!" just feels tacked on and irrelevant to the actual story.
That's the sort of token pronouncement that makes it feel forced and insincere. Better to show than to tell.
20. Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren. I had been thinking about reading this book for a while, but the low ratings deterred me. Eventually, though, I ended up in an out-of-town library, where I read the first chapter and was interested enough that I requested it from my own library when I got home.
So it sat in my huge TBR pile for a week or two, and I picked it up again last night when I was tired and looking for some light non-fiction. And I found myself completely engrossed. I stayed up a bit too late reading last night, and finished the book this morning. The story, while ridiculous, is fascinating. It was initially a bit difficult to relate to the author: she signs up to be a party ornament for a prince in Brunei, figuring that that means she'll be a "quasi-prostitute", and she's fine with that.
But as her own story came out, I actually found myself rooting for her. She started university at 16 in an attempt to get away from her abusive father, but dropped out after six months, at which point her parents immediately cut off any financial assistance. So the aspiring actress worked as a waitress, then a stripper, and ultimately an escort, before the Brunei opportunity came up. She'd also had many other issues earlier in life: molested at summer camp when she was 12 or 13, anorexic, an occasional drug user.... Her life just sounded unbelievably messed up, though I think that's probably far more common than I'd expect.
Anyway, while I can't remotely imagine making the choices that she did, I also found that I couldn't entirely blame her for them, and I wanted things to work out. It was interesting to read her story at least partially because it was so alien to me. But it was also just fun sometimes to read about the exorbitant wealth of the Sultan's brother, and the experiences of a New Jersey girl on a shopping trip with no spending limit, and things like that. So it's a combination of an informative read and a guilty pleasure, and that combination worked for me. If the basic premise appeals, then I'd recommend giving it a try.
>91 scaifea: I'm glad I'm not the only one interested in books like that! I'll look forward to seeing your thoughts if you end up reading it--it's definitely a striking book, and I can see people either loving or hating it.
Also, some good news: I finally managed to join Amazon Vine! I've been hoping for this moment ever since I moved to this country almost three years ago. More precisely, I read that they don't actually send out invitations and you just have to go to the relevant page (amazon.com/gp/vine) to see whether you've been invited, so for all I know I could have joined a year ago, but I'm still very happy! Of course, I had just been thinking about how I was doing really well on limiting my book acquisitions this year, and I really don't need more books, but it's still very exciting. I immediately requested two books when I joined last Wednesday, and they arrived today. Yay, books!
Woohoo! Vine sounds awesome, and I keep intending to transfer all my reviews over to Amazon in hopes of being invited myself, I just...well, haven't...yet...
You should do it! Although in my experience the key to getting votes is not to write lots of reviews of older books, but to write reviews of brand-new books that are still getting lots of attention. So if there are any books that you happen to read within a month or two of publication, you should definitely review them.
Yeah, I've noticed that too with LT. Reading more popular books that lots of people have read seems to up the number of people willing to trudge through my mediocre reviews.
I guess in addition to moving all my review I need to stop avoiding trendy 'fad' books. But...but I don't WANT to read what everyone else is reading!
I'm doing better though, reading a popular book now and my next book has over 10,000 entires on LT (Watchmen.) Yep, the commercial book-panding overlords have me in their clutches! Before you know it I'll be reading every book being made into a movie. What a dismal prospect!
Don't be such a snob, Stephen. ;P I've discovered some really amazing books because they were made into movies.
I'm not a snob, I'm a nonconformist! *Raises nose, snaps jackets, and jaunts haughtily away*
I just don't like having my reading dictated by others, especially movies, which I don't like in the first place. I also find it odd that a book is made into a movie and everyone rushes to a bookstore to read it immediately.
If I was already going to read a book then I wouldn't write it off my wishlist JUST because it became a movie, but I definitely have no interest reading one book or another just because everyone else is. I compose my wishlists by browsing amazon or my local public library's online catalog, where I can choose which books I want to read without all the noise of everyone else's opinions.
When I was in college, I was sort-of-dating this guy who borrowed Harry Potter from me and promised he'd read it. A week later, he returned it and said he didn't want to read it after all because EVERYONE was reading it and he was a non-conformist. He didn't want other people to dictate what he read. I thought he was annoyingly stupid for saying this to me because clearly he WAS allowing other people to dictate what he read (or didn't read), because his choice not to read Harry Potter was based solely upon what everyone else was reading. He didn't make it to the actually-dating phase. ;)
Point is: being non-conformist is good, but don't allow your stubborn non-conformity to control all your decisions, or you'll be falling into the exact trap that you wished to avoid. :p That, and intelligent girls might find you unattractive. :p
A lot of the books I read are chosen because they are getting a movie or TV series. And they end up being great! And then I never watch the movie or TV show . . . .
I'd actually just as soon read a book that other people are reading, all else being equal. I like being able to talk about books.
Rachel: Oh definitely! Like I said, I won't avoid a book that I already wanted to read. I just won't add a book to my wishlist soley because everyone else is reading it. I read the Harry Potter books as they were being released, and I still want to read the Hunger Games and Percy Jackson books, but I'm not going to go out and read the latest blockbuster thriller *gag* just because it was made into a movie.
Intelligent girls already find me unattractive, so all's the same. :)
Intelligent girls already find me unattractive, so all's the same. :)
Based on your profile picture, I'd say you're rather handsome, though I prefer the grizzly men myself. :D
>101 norabelle414: and 102 I agree. Often times a book has been made into a movie or TV show because it has a good story. I would prefer reading the book before I watch the movie, because movies are rarely as good as books and sometimes act as spoilers. I also like discussing books with people, though unfortunately I'm so scatter-brained in my book choices that I generally read books years after everyone else has.
I think in my case, I'm not reading it because everyone else is (I have my non-conformist tendencies too) but because the film/tv show looks good and it sparks my interest in the book.
Truly the only movie that followed a book in a credible way was To Kill a Mockingbird. Lo these years later it remains my all time favorite.
I second that. To Kill a Mockingbird is wonderful in both versions.
Therein lies a solution to this "everybody's reading it, so why should/shouldn't I?" debate: just read classics. ;)
Stopping in to say I read Some Girls last year, and found it absolutely fascinating as well. I picked it up on a whim at one of the Borders closing sales while in Seattle, thinking it might be an interested diversion, and then read the whole thing in one sitting on the plane ride home. I did find her hard to relate to in many ways (ie. her casual attitude toward being a quasi-prostitute), but it made sense considering her background and, like you, I found myself rooting for everything to turn out well for her in the end.
I *thought* you had read it, but I couldn't manage to find the relevant thread! That's probably where I first heard about the book. Thanks for a good recommendation.
I just read a very interesting article about the writing process of Bitterblue. Apparently, when Cashore submitted her first draft, it was 300 pages too long and her editor told her to rewrite the whole thing, which she did.
One particularly interesting point to me was that Bitterblue's age ended up being increased from 16 to 18, "because an 'unexpected vibe' with one character looked as though it might lead to a sexual relationship". Assuming I'm thinking of the right character (some potential tiny spoilers), he's in his mid/late twenties, and I couldn't help thinking again that this was a case of imposing our world onto the fantasy world. As far as I know, it was perfectly normal in medieval-ish societies for a 16-year-old girl to marry a man in his twenties, with 18 just being an arbitrary age imposed by our society.
21. Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn. (My first Vine book!)
If you’re interested in running and travel, you’ll want to read this book. It’s the story of a guy from England who, wondering what it would take to become a better runner, packs up his family and moves to a small town in Kenya to figure out the secrets of the best runners out there.
The secrets, as it turns out, are not very surprising, and are a combination of factors rather than one single thing. Lifestyle plays a huge role in producing top runners; Kenyan children in rural areas live hard, physically-demanding lives, and often run miles every day just as a way of getting to and from school. When they choose to become athletes, they have an extremely high level of dedication because achieving success can change their lives so dramatically; even a relatively small amount of prize money can allow them to vastly improve their families’ standards of living. And once some runners have achieved such success, it sets off a spiral of positive reinforcement: more people are driven to become runners, and their families are willing to make sacrifices so that they can dedicate their lives to training. Other factors are mentioned as well: barefoot running, and diet, and so on.
These “secrets” are mainly presented in an anecdotal way; there are occasional mentions of scientific studies, but that’s not the driving force of this book. Mostly, Finn just talks to people and considers what he sees. This makes for a very easy read, but it did occasionally lead me to have doubts about his conclusions. He largely rejects the idea that the specific subgroup of Kenyans that excels most in races, the Kalenjin, has some sort of genetic advantage, at least partially on the grounds that this would diminish their achievements and discourage other competitors. He also confidently asserts the benefits of a low-fat diet, when I’d thought that recent science had rejected this idea. There’s no doubt that the standard western diet leads to a lot of health problems, but I’d thought that it was now seen as more a matter of refined carbohydrates and specific types of fat. I’m certainly not an expert on the matter, and I may be completely wrong—but Finn isn’t an expert either, and he presented no convincing evidence to support his position and make me change my views.
So, this has to be viewed as more a travelogue and memoir than as a serious work of scholarship on Kenyan athletes. And I don’t think that’s a problem, as long as you go in with the right expectations. As a travelogue, I'd say it’s only average in terms of writing and depth of observation, but the interesting premise of going to train with the Kenyan runners is enough to make it a worthwhile read in my eyes. I don’t really know of another book like this, though I do have Toby Tanser’s More Fire on my TBR pile.
Ultimately, I found this a quick and interesting read, but was left feeling that I wanted to get a little bit deeper into this world. Finn focuses pretty exclusively on the runners he meets and the runs he participates in, but one of my favourite parts was actually his description of his daughters’ first day at the local school. I would have liked to read a bit more about life in Africa, both his own life and that of the locals. Maybe because he was a foreigner and only lived in Kenya temporarily, I didn’t feel like I really came away with a great understanding of what life was like for a Kenyan runner. We heard about life in the training camps, but I wanted to know more about the runners’ childhoods and their families as well. I didn’t feel as connected to the people described here as I did to the ones in, say, Stephanie Nolen’s 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa. I’m left hoping that someone like Jacques Steinberg (You Are an Ironman) or Liz Robbins (A Race Like No Other) will eventually write a book profiling a small group of Kenyan runners in the leadup to a major race. In the meantime, though, Finn’s book has the advantage of actually existing; it’s a quick and easy read, and worth the time if you’re interested in the topic.
Since I'm supposed to be studying for exams, it seems like a good time to plan out my reading for next month, even though the new TIOLI isn't up yet. Here are some preliminary ideas:
First Marathons (so close to being done)
Reading and Writing in Babylon (close to being done, and I don't want to transport it)
The Unseen Guest (to avoid transporting)
Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization (pretty close to done)
The Heavenly Writing
The Drowned Cities
Nothing to Envy
Miracle in the Andes
Very interesting review of Running with the Kenyans! I agree with the bit about diet... from what I've read, science has recently rejected the low-fat idea as well. In fact, in the 4 months since cutting out carbs (incl. refined sugars) and eating plenty of good fats, along with plenty of exercise, my husband has lost 38 pounds! His diet has definitely NOT been low-fat, and he hasn't had to starve himself or ever feel hungry.
It's also odd that Finn dismisses a genetic advantage. He doesn't even entertain the possibility? Odd.
Thanks for the confirmation about diet!
He does allow the *possibility* that there's a genetic factor, but he doesn't think we have any convincing evidence for it. Which is odd, because he doesn't exactly present convincing evidence for some of the other factors that he does accept.
BTW, the people in the Vine forums are pretty much the biggest group of assholes I've ever encountered. Sorry for the language, but sometimes strong feelings call for strong expressions. And you guys know that I don't shy from an argument; there, though, it's all passive-aggressive down-voting and innuendo instead of just expressing disagreement.
Basically, my life would be much better if I just took my free books and wrote my reviews and left it at that. But unfortunately, I'm someone who reads forums. I like to know as much as possible about what's going on. Sigh.
Just catching up here. I had to put Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice on my wishlist. I am writing a story for my nephew where the kids go to places via a cabinet and the first place that they go to is Babylon.
(Bruce'e evil twin :-))
Oh, that sounds like fun! Not enough books are set in Babylon. I hope you enjoy Ancient Babylonian Medicine.
>116 _Zoe_: You mean they disagree with your opinions and react passive-aggressively? That seems a bit odd. Everybody is free to have an opinion about books, right?
>119 The_Hibernator: Not so much books, but discussions about how the program works and things like that. I haven't actually said much myself, but there will be newbie questions that are down-voted into oblivion and get lots of snarky responses (the forum doesn't have a search feature), or arguments about what counts as an infraction and whether that has already been discussed enough before and whether to report infractions or just bitch about them in the forum, and all sorts of useless stuff like that, all with generous application of the "does not contribute to the discussion" button. I think the biggest issue is that it's entirely unmoderated, so that the jerks can just do whatever they want without consequence. I'm generally opposed to moderation and really appreciate the fact that LT doesn't have "moderators" per se, but the red flags actually *do* something here--if you constantly post flaggable material, or give undeserved flags, LT staff will eventually do something about it. There, it's just a free-for-all. People downvote other people's posts for no reason, and do spammy things like bumping sticky threads, and it's just generally unpleasant. And apparently if you annoy someone in the forums, they'll start thumbing down your reviews as well. So it's just generally a frightening place, and one that I'd prefer to avoid, if only I didn't want to be informed about what was going on with the program.
That does sound awful. Do down-thumbs affect your reveiwer rating, though? I thought it was some magical formula including how many thumbs up you get compared to the number of reviews and how many of those thumbs up are on new reveiws (vs ones posted years ago). I figured I'd never get invited because I post so many reviews on obscure books where my review won't see much traffic.... :)
Yup. To be fair, there are nice people too, but it doesn't take many bad ones to make the whole atmosphere feel toxic.
I think thumbs-down do affect the rating, though the rating doesn't really matter for anything at this point. I also think it's harmless to write reviews of obscure books that don't get any thumbs; they may even increase your rating slightly while they're new, because writing reviews at all is better than not. If you review a lot, it's probably worth checking to see whether you have an unannounced invite: amazon.com/gp/vine
Interesting discussion of the disability issue. Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark deals with this. In this book, set in the future, the main character is offered (and pressured to undergo) a potential "cure" for his autism; in the course of his decision, he has to face the question, "will I still be me if I do this?" I know Temple Grandin (a very successful woman with autism) says she would not accept a "cure" -- her autism, and the unusual skill set it has given her, has been a major factor in her being able to do the work that she does.
Personally, I think one can be fully "complete" and productive with a disability, but still want to have the "missing" functionality restored. For instance, most people I know who have lost the use of their legs would like to walk again. I don't understand why anyone would find that offensive.
>124 tymfos: Some people protect their own insecurities by finding things like that offensive. Probably best to not feel offended by the offended people. ;)
I know this is a weird aside, but you made me think of it. I used to work in spinal cord injury research and apparently it is more important to patients to get their bladder/bowel function back than their ability to walk. Which is understandable since loss of bladder/bowel function can be humiliating as well as difficult to deal with. Puts things in perspective, doesn't it?
I just read read a fantasy book with a disabled main character and I was a little disappointed (although not surprised) when her disability was magically cured at the end. I really liked how Cashore handled Po's blindness in Bitterblue.
I think part of the issue is that there are real, actual disabled people in the world, who can't get magical (or medical) cures for their disabilities - and there are almost never disabled people in fiction, especially genre fiction, unless it's a Dramatic Moving Tale About A Disabled Person. Which is fine occasionally, but if that's all there is, it's as bad as every gay character being in A Tragic Story Of Being Gay, or every non-white character being in An Uplifting Story Of Minorities Succeeding Against The Odds. And so on.
When they do appear in genre fiction, disabled characters nearly always do get magically cured (or fixed somehow, like Po's Grace). So where do disabled people get to read about f/sf characters who are like them? I'm not disabled, but I am fat, and I can count on one hand the number of books I've read with a fat main character who didn't finish the book thin. With fingers left over.
Right on, bluesalamanders! Especially the treatment of Gays Tragically Being Gay - it's like that's all the author thinks a person with same-sex attraction is. Gays have become objectified by the title of Gay, which says that that is the whole sum of their identity. Goodness, people are much more complex and beautiful than a sexual identity!
128 Eris - Thanks. And yeah, I think my point, which got a little muddled by the end, was that all these different kinds of people are just as complex and interesting as the standard straight white thin able-bodied hero, and could have stories written with them as the main characters without it being all about their difference, and without those differences being erased by the end of the story.
I have been seeing some more diversity in the secondary characters recently, which is a start at least. It's possible to take these issues into consideration without falling into "tokenism".
>125 The_Hibernator: Yup, I can completely understand being more concerned about bowel/bladder issues than about being able to walk!
>129 bluesalamanders: Sure, I agree that the hero doesn't have to be straight, white, thin, and able-bodied. But I also don't think the author need to go through a checklist of "Do I have a dark-skinned character? A gay character? A disabled character?" just for the sake of it, and I especially don't think that they should change their world after the fact, in unnatural ways, just to be more politically correct.
A quote from Cashore's blog (with Graceling spoilers):
when I realized what I'd done, I tried to change a few things to make his blindness more real, and his cure less magical. For example, in Bitterblue, he can't read words on paper and needs assistive devices to write, and when he's ill, his Grace warps so that he no longer has a clear sense of his surroundings.
But does it make sense in the context of the world that his Grace warps when he gets sick? Does Katsa's Grace warp when she's sick, and if so, wouldn't that partially defeat the purpose of her Grace? What about Leck's? Could Ashen and Bitterblue have avoided a lot of trouble if they'd just waited until Leck had a fever? And so on. It seems like the sort of ad-hoc thing that's just been pasted on with no thought for how it fits with the world that's already been established, because political correctness has suddenly taken precedence even over presenting a coherent world.
Another quote, from the FAQ, before Bitterblue had been released (with spoilers from Graceling and Bitterblue):
Are Raffin and Bann a couple?
This is, hands down, my most frequently asked question. It's also a perfect example of a question I won't answer. My reason for not answering has nothing to do with the subject matter; it's only that, as I say at the top of this page, I don't answer questions about subtext. I don't think the author has the right to stand outside the book explaining the book. The reader needs to be allowed to have his or own interpretation; the book needs to be its own answer. Make sense?
Suddenly, "room for interpretation" is no longer desired, when the alternative is "beat them over the head with a political message". I can understand wanting to give Raffin his happy ending, but Bren and Tilda(?) were such minor characters that I really don't think it was necessary to be explicit that they were a couple, especially when the way it was revealed was so incredibly unnatural. Of course, it's possible that readers wouldn't have realized it otherwise--but that's just an indication that it's not really central to the plot.
So, yeah, I'm all for occasional characters--including protagonists--who are disabled, gay, whatever, as long as it makes sense in the context of the world (some of my favourite books have gay protagonists). I'm less in favour of suddenly changing the existing world to convert an extremely high percentage of the characters into some sort of minority and emphasizing their minority status even when it adds nothing to the story.
Getting away a bit from Bitterblue (sorry, I think that story makes me unusually grumpy!), I wonder where to draw the line between "some characters should be disabled and not get healed" and "no disabled character should ever get healed"?
Maybe I'll have to read The Speed of Dark. I can certainly understand not wanting to change my whole way of thinking, even if I were somehow "different"; I'm less sure that I could ever lose my ability to walk and not want to walk again.
There's nothing in the previous books to make it unlikely for Po's Grace to be effected that way. No Graceling in the books is ever sick to that degree (that I recall, correct me if I'm wrong). It doesn't seem unreasonable or changing the world to me at all. But enough about that.
I actually do think authors should think "do I have x, y, z kinds of characters?" Because if they do that long enough, they won't have to; it will become natural to include lots of different kinds of characters. If they don't do it, nothing will change. I have never said and would never say that every book has to have every character, but most books should have variety in their characters.
I also don't think that no disabled character should ever be healed, but there should be a compelling reason to do it. In a book I just read in which the main character was disabled and then healed at the end, there didn't seem to be a good reason for it, it just sort of happened (I mean, yes, the dragon did it, but there was no real explanation as to why the dragon could do it or would want to or anything).
>131 bluesalamanders: Maybe a lot of it depends on what stage in the writing process they do that thinking (do I have x, y, and z) and how it fits into the world and story that they're creating. To take another example from Cashore's writing, the fact that Brocker was in a wheelchair was actually significant in the context of the story; he wasn't disabled just for the sake of it.
I still have some doubts about the general concept, though--what the goals are, and whether they're being met effectively. Is the inclusion of x, y, z secondary characters supposed to make people like that feel that they're represented in the world, or is the goal to tell the straight, white, able-bodied people that they should be more accepting of x, y, and z? It felt to me like Cashore was pushing a political message, and I'm curious about to what extent political messages can be consciously inserted into a book without detracting from the main story. I have less of a problem when the political message is the heart of the main story--I generally love dystopias, for example. I think, again, that it's a matter of how much the intended message is incorporated into the worldbuilding from the ground up, as opposed to being slapped on like an afterthought. I said earlier on that I would much have preferred for Bitterblue herself to be a lesbian, rather than hearing a report from another character that two minor characters were lesbians.
Basically, I think consistent worldbuilding and characters who act in a reasonable way within that world are more important than variety just for the sake of it.
>132 qebo: Heh, I have my priorities!
And speaking of priorities, a couple of books completed, including one from the beginning of last week....
22. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. I'd been hearing for a while about how amazing this book is, but I was reluctant to read it because I was afraid the premise would make me too angry: a boy on the autism spectrum who's comfortable at his special school is essentially forced by his father to take a summer job in the "real world". And I did find the beginning a bit frustrating for that reason, but the main body of the work was not nearly as bleak as I'd imagined, because Marcelo actually manages to get along pretty well. To make a long story short, I ended up loving this book, and I'd recommend it to everyone else as well. The pages went by quickly, and the story was extremely satisfying.
23. NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. This is a very interesting book about how "common knowledge" ideas about children are often very wrong. It's based on scientific studies, but written in a very accessible style. The ten chapters each deal with a different issue, including how praising children as intelligent actually ends badly (it's better to praise them for effort, because then they feel that their accomplishments are something that they earn and can control), how white parents' attempts to develop tolerance in their kids often don't work or even backfire, and so on. I'd definitely recommend it if you're interested in this sort of thing.
133 - I agree that the books in which authors first start thinking about these issues aren't going to be perfect. Ash by Malinda Lo is a good example of exactly what you're talking about; Lo decided halfway through the book to change the world and make it gay-friendly with a lesbian (or maybe bi, I don't recall) main character, and it really shows.
Consistent worldbuilding and reasonable characters are important, but if a book only includes straight white men for no reason other than it never occurred to the author to write anything else, then that's not enough.
And as for books like Ash and Bitterblue - well, I'm willing to take a few clunkers on the road to a broader future.
Funny that Ash is the example; I actually started that book, thinking that a lesbian Cinderalla would be a fun twist, but didn't even manage to get to that point because I cared so little about Ash from the beginning. So maybe the awkward attempts to insert gay characters aren't actually the problem in themselves, but just a current manifestation of what would have been bad storytelling to begin with :). All the times that it turns out well, I probably don't even notice.
How did you feel about the gay characters in Cassandra Clare's books? Did they feel natural? Did you notice them?
>137 norabelle414: They felt normal, at least the two I can remember. They were real characters whose sexual preferences were just one aspect of who they were, so it didn't seem intrusive at all to me. It wouldn't even have occurred to me to think that Cassandra Clare was using them to push a political agenda.
I've read 23 books this year and acquired 24. And one of those 24 is a San Francisco travel guide, and one is a dictionary. So it's almost like I'm reading more than I buy.
We'll just ignore the fact that half of the read books are from the library, so that I'm not actually reducing the TBR pile....
Haha, well I consider the local library as something like a humongous TBR pile, so I think that still counts in a way...even if it isn't as effective at clearing space in your living environment as reading the ones that are piled halfway to the ceiling in your kitchen.
I know this sounds silly, but I have an Excel file in which I keep track of my newly acquired vs. TBR, and I count one previously owned book as 1 point and a library book as half a point. :)
I like that! Maybe I could count newly-acquired reference books as just half a point, too.
I'd still be a bit behind, but it would be very close. And I'm hoping to finish at least a couple more books this week....
>140 Ape: I agree. I also figure that the library keeps my living space clear of all the books that I would otherwise have to buy in order to read, so in a way it's preemptive of REAL space issues.
24. Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. I read this book because Jurek was featured in Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, which I loved. I also enjoy running books more generally, so I figured I'd give this one a try, even though I knew going in that there was another major aspect that I was less interested in: in addition to running, Jurek is also very focused on diet, and achieved his major ultramarathon victories while being a committed vegan. So, as is obvious from the title, this memoir focuses both on running and on food.
The first thing to emphasize is that it is a memoir, more than a book focused on a specific running event. Jurek tells us a lot about how his difficult childhood gave him the determination needed to succeed as an ultrarunner. We read about the death of his mother, his messy divorce, and his attempts to find peace and transcendence through running. I came away with the impression that Jurek is a really good guy, committed to his beliefs but not the sort to force those beliefs on others.
Still, the fact remains that memoirs just aren't my favourite type of reading. Thinking back on the running books that I've enjoyed, I think I prefer the ones that focus on a particular race and provide people's backstories as part of the lead-up to the main event: books like Born to Run, or A Race Like No Other, or You Are an Ironman. Or, in the case of books focused on an individual, there's something else about their particular story that grips me: I was interested in Triumph because of the political issues surrounding the Berlin Olympics in 1936, and I was interested in An Accidental Athlete because I can relate to the feelings of a non-athlete taking up running. The story of someone who's just always been a good runner, though, seems not to hold a lot of interest for me unless there's something more as well.
And of course, there is something more here: the focus on veganism. For people who are already vegans themselves, or who are even remotely considering it, I can imagine that this book would make for a compelling read. I did appreciate Jurek's point that he felt much better and became a better runner after he switched to a vegan diet. I just can't imagine doing it myself, though; the amount of extra effort involved is just too much for me.
Since I do generally want to eat more healthily, though, I had thought going in that I might still be interested in some of the included recipes. There's one at the end of every chapter, or 22 in all. In reality, though, I found that the recipes just slowed down the book; whenever I got into the flow of it, that flow was soon interrupted. I don't know that I'll actually try out any of the recipes, either. The ones that I'm more likely to make--basic mainstream Mexican-type things like guacamole, salsa, or refried beans--are things that I don't really need this book for. On the other hand, I'm not really interested in some of the more extreme vegan recipes like pizza bread with tofu "cheese". Maybe most importantly, though, the fact that the recipes are mixed in with the main text of the book, and not listed in the index as far as I can see, means that I'm just unlikely to look at these recipes now that I'm done reading. The only way to get at them is to flip through the book and consider each one individually, which is pretty inefficient. I think it might have been better both for the flow of the text and for future reference if the recipes had all been gathered together at the end.
So, all that is to explain why I seem to be one of the only people who didn't love this book. I don't think it's a bad book at all; I just probably wasn't the ideal reader. If you're interested in general memoirs or veganism as well as running, then you may want to give this book a try. But if you're just looking for something else like Born to Run, then this may not be quite what you want.
25. The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi. I sometimes think that Paolo Bacigalupi is the only YA author writing real dystopias these days. After reading several feeble dystopian romances where the dystopian element is just a poorly-developed backdrop, it was a huge relief to read a good dystopia where there's actually a strong connection between our world today and the author's vision of how things could go wrong in the future. There are plenty of elements of the real world in Bacigalupi's Drowned Cities: climate change, and genetic engineering, and child soldiers. It's easy to imagine a path from the present world to that one, and this sense of possibility is what makes the dystopia so powerful.
It can also make for some difficult reading at times. Bacigalupi's future is a pretty bleak one, and reading about the helplessness of child soldiers is never easy. I don't think this is a book for everyone. I also find that Bacigalupi is stronger at world-building than character-building, which works for me because I find his worlds so fascinating, but which, again, may not be for everyone. Still, I'd certainly recommend this book.
The Drowned Cities is a companion to Ship Breaker, but I don't think they have to be read in order. I actually preferred The Drowned Cities, but that may be only because I read Ship Breaker very soon after reading Bacigalupi's adult book The Windup Girl, which I found much richer. If you're looking for a solid, powerful dystopia that presents a frighteningly plausible image of the future, you'd probably be fine starting with any of his three novels. I don't think you'll regret it.
Yes, you do! There was a copy at the library booksale that I would have liked to push on someone.
The best part about giant cheap booksales with friends is finding books you like and making other people buy them, it's true.
I'll have to look those two up. I haven't really read any dystopia books as of yet, but they sound like a good starting point :)
We'll just ignore the fact that half of the read books are from the library, so that I'm not actually reducing the TBR pile....
My plight exactly!
I consider the local library as something like a humongous TBR pile
LOL! Me, too!
I have an Excel file in which I keep track of my newly acquired vs. TBR, and I count one previously owned book as 1 point and a library book as half a point. :)
Oh, I need to start one of those!!
>150 Kassilem: Yup, I do think this would be a good place to start. I hope you like them!
I had my oral exam today, and passed it, and so I'm finally done with the whole drawn-out comprehensive exams process! I can finally read books again, and be less stressed, and all sorts of good things. Except for now it hasn't quite sunk in, so I just feel sort of confused and at a loss for what to do.
#152 -- Congratulations! Enjoy some fun fluffy reading to celebrate -- that should help you adjust. :-)
Congrats! That's pretty much the general feeling after comps. Take it and run. :)
Wow, Congrats! And you are still coherent! Everyone that I know were in a veggie like state for at least a day or two after finishing.
(Bruce's evil twin :-))
>157 bruce_krafft: Heh, I think the only reason I'm still moderately functional is because the process was so spread out, and I wasn't able to maintain super-peak studying mode forever. I had written exams on May 31, June 5, and June 8, and then my supervisor was away for a week, so I couldn't do the oral exam until yesterday. That meant I was able to take a break for a few days in between, although it was then a huge struggle to get back into studying at all.
Congratulations on passing your exams! You've definitely earned the right to goof off for a few days. Or weeks.
Thanks, Sandy! I just wish I could rest for a few weeks. Unfortunately I now have a huge amount of packing to do, since I'll be leaving for Toronto in a week and then going directly from there to California for the fall semester.
This is a bit of a crisis when it comes to books. I can bring one suitcase and one large backpack with me to Toronto. Needless to say, I will not be able to fit all of my books, and I may want to bring a bit of clothing too (though fortunately I was able to send some of my warm clothing with my family when I saw them a couple of months ago). I already sadly said goodbye yesterday to twenty of my school-related books that will be visiting a friend for the semester. And now I'll be frantically trying to finish up some of my books-in-progress so that I don't have to bring them, or return them unread to the library.
One suitcase. Six months. So many books! Eek.
Yikes! What a dilemma! One thing I do not miss from my college years is the constant moving - and the packing that goes along with it.
What I do when I'm packing for a trip is fill about half of the available space with the books that I most want to read, and the other half with any books carefully chosen for their efficiency. Short, fat books with tiny writing and cheap paper, basically. I know that the more choices I have, the more likely I am to have something with me that I'm in the mood to read.
Are all the rest of your books going to stay in NYC for the summer and fall?? I'm having vicarious separation anxiety . . .
(...as if Zoe won't be able to find any books in California and needs to take them all with her!!)
Congrats on passing the comps, Zoe. What a relief it must be to get them over with!
Enjoy the summer and know that I'll be green with envy knowing that you'll be spending the fall in San Francisco.
I know, other people have also told me that they have bookstores and libraries in California!
But still, I might want to read a particular book that I already own.... Especially if it's one that I planned out for my 12 in 12 reading this year. And it's just sad to think of so many books being left behind. (Nora, my newer acquisitions will be left in New York and my older acquisitions will be at my parents' house near Toronto.) Also, I'm pretty terrible at reading books off the shelf, so I know that the more time that a book spends in my unread pile, the less likely it is to *ever* get read....
26. The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood. This is the third book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, a sort of satire about a young governess taking care of three children who were literally raised by wolves. I love the writing style and humour of these books, and the illustrations are wonderful. If you've been enjoying the series so far, you'll probably want to continue on. If you haven't read the earlier books, I'd recommend starting at the beginning, though I've heard that the second one at least could still be enjoyed as a stand-alone.
The only complaint I have about the series is that the underlying mystery keeps getting more and more complex without being resolved. We don't know who left the children in the woods, or what happened to Penelope's parents, or basically anything about how the current situation came about. I was particularly disappointed about the lack of progress in the second book, and that kept me from fully enjoying this third one: rather than tearing through in my eagerness to find out what would happen, I found myself just bracing for another disappointment. In the end, that may have been for the best because I didn't come away from the book unpleasantly surprised, but it didn't make for the ideal reading experience either.
Basically, the plot continues to thicken in this book; we get some tantalizing hints about various aspects of the mystery, and learn some very interesting new things. We still don't get to see how everything fits together, though, and I just hope that the ultimate resolution will tie it all together satisfactorily. I almost think that I'll enjoy the books more when I can reread them after the whole series is done, and just focus on the fun playful tone without worrying about whether the series as a whole is going to come together properly in the end.
Other than that, though, I'm very happy with this installment. It introduces some fun new characters, and Penelope also experiences a bit of character development as she tries to come to terms with growing up and realizes, for example, that her favourite childhood books aren't quite as exciting as she used to think. I'm hoping that future books will show the Incorrigibles developing a bit more too; they've seemed pretty static ever since the original great strides that Penelope made with them in the first book.
On the whole, I'd recommend this book and this series. I think it's one of the few children's (not YA) series that I can still enjoy thoroughly as an adult. I just wish I weren't so nervous about whether the overall resolution will be satisfactory or not, but maybe that's just a sign of how much I care about the books.
Good review, Zoe! I actually just finished the second book of the series and am working my way through the third one. You pretty much explained my own qualms about the series. I was hoping for a bit of plot resolution in the last book and was a tad dissapointed, because I am interested in finding out about their past. The book was fun, though, and it helped distract me when I was really sick last week.
Thanks, Eris! I'm glad it's not just me. I really hope everything will make sense in the end.
#166 This sounds like a fun series, but according to LT, there are only 3 books in the series - is it new?
Yup, it's new. The third book just came out a couple of months ago. I don't know how many there are going to be in the end, but at the very least one more.
I too wanted more resolution in the second book, but the hints and foreshadowing are pretty heavyhanded. Unless they are, of course, red herrings. The books keep getting longer, too, so not really a single afternoon read any more, which prevents me from picking up #3.
I waited surprisingly long before reading the third book myself, considering that I bought it as soon as it was released. But I rarely finish books in a single afternoon anyway, so that at least wasn't a concern for me.
Meanwhile, I'm being pulled toward making a list of books like everyone else is doing.... I'm going to do it in bits and pieces, though, because it would take me way too long to put the whole thing together at once. So, here's a preliminary sample:
2012 expected: The Snow Child (I have at least 50 pages left in this book, but I don't think it will go too wrong)
2011 Little Princes
2010 The Mysterious Howling
2009 The Unlikely Disciple
2008 Victory of Eagles (or maybe Black Ships)
2007 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa
2006 Life as We Knew It
2005 The Hunter's Moon
2004 Trickster's Queen? Or maybe The Children's Blizzard?
2003 Trickster's Choice?
2000 The Sand-Reckoner
hmm. Your list is much more eclectic than mine. My list is at home (and I am at work), but if I remember correctly it looks something like:
2000-2011: Harry Potter/jasper fforde
1990-1999: neil gaiman/philip pullman/orson scott card
1980-1989: douglas adams/neil gaiman
and then everything from 1950 back is Nancy Drew and L. Frank Baum. I actually have a pretty good range (I think I'm missing 2 years going back to 1900) due to my fondness for really old children's books.
I have put on my confused face. O_o?
What is this list that everyone is doing? A favorite book from each year? I feel like I missed something being off everyone's threads for... um... basically the entire month of June. Any assistance you might be willing to render is much appreciated.
>173 norabelle414: Heh, I guess I'm lucky(?) in that I just don't love a lot of the super-popular authors. I thought the Harry Potter books were decent, but not particularly special as YA fantasy goes--I preferred Diana Wynne Jones. And some of the later HP books really could have used a more aggressive editor. I've enjoyed some of Gaiman's YA stuff, but didn't find it particularly memorable, and actively disliked American Gods. And while I loved Pullman's Sally Lockhart books, His Dark Materials didn't really work for me. I read The Golden Compass when it first came out, and found it pretty confusing; then a few years ago I tried again, and read both The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, but still wasn't excited enough about the trilogy to read the third one. I'll try again someday.
>174 beserene: Yup, a favourite book for every year. I really don't know how they're doing it; I struggled to get beyond 10 years. You can see a collection of the lists here.
Meanwhile, some hasty catch-up on books read recently (or in the past two weeks, anyway):
27. First Marathons. This is a collection of anecdotes about people's first marathons, as the title suggests. It seems like the sort of thing I should have loved, but I actually found it pretty slow going. I think I prefer books that follow maybe six people in the lead-up to a big event, like A Race Like No Other or You Are an Ironman, so that things are building toward a climax and its a more engaging continuous narrative. That wasn't the case here; there are just a lot of short and disconnected pieces. Some were great, but on the whole I was underwhelmed. The book is more than ten years old, too, and it seemed a bit dated at times.
28. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. This one, on the other hand, I did love. It's a fairy tale retelling set on a 1920s Alaska homestead. This might sound like a strange combination, but I like fairy tale retellings and I like books about pioneers (I keep meaning to reread the Little House books....), and it worked for me. The story was compelling, and the writing was beautiful. I tend to hesitate a bit about books labelled "magical realism", but in this case it wasn't a problem at all. Highly recommended.
29. His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik. Sarah convinced me to reread these books, and so it's begun. Expect to see a lot more of them here, ultimately culminating in the newest book. I enjoyed His Majesty's Dragon just as much the second time through, and I'd recommend the series to anyone who hasn't tried it yet. The Napoleonic Wars with dragons make for a surprisingly good combination.
And now, the post that gave me the motivation to catch up: after seeing Nora's halfway recap, I decided I wanted to do one too. Some statistics about my progress so far (excluding His Majesty's Dragon, which was completed in July):
Books read: 28
New reads: 27
Owned: 14 (includes books belonging to other family members)
Library: 14 (including one that I actually own, but didn't have on hand!)
Off the Shelf (purchased before 2012, not previously read): 1 (does not include books belonging to other family members)
So, my reaction is mixed. On the one hand, I'm obviously very far behind in terms of raw numbers. I still hope to catch up now that my exams are done, but there's a long way to go. Maybe if I eventually finish some of those books in progress....
Also, I need to do a lot better in reading books off the shelf, or else just weed them if they aren't going to get read.
On the other hand, there's still a lot to be happy about here. Most importantly, my book acquisitions are finally under control and I no longer feel overwhelmed. I've actually read more books than I've acquired, which is a huge accomplishment even though the library reads mean that my TBR pile hasn't actually decreased. I'm also very satisfied with the selection of books that I've read; I think I'm getting better at choosing things that will be enjoyable and worthwhile.
On the whole, I'd say it's been a good six months.
I wasn't a huge fan of The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife either. However, I decided to give them another go recently when I realized that the trilogy was an anti-organized religion "retelling" of Milton's Paradise Lost. I still haven't gotten to the third one, but I will someday. :) I understand what he was trying to do now...but I don't like being pounded over the head with his anti-organized religion message. Sometimes it gets to be too much...such things should be shown through the story, not told through dialogue.
I read The Golden Compass last year and didn't care enough about either characters or story to continue the series, though I still kinda feel I ought to. OTOH, if I'm supposed to be getting the message, meh, can't dredge up a huge amount of indignation about organized religion; it's a subset of organized anything.
The Snow Child and the Incorrigible Children books all sound good. Fairy tales + pioneers is a novel combination.
His Majesty's Dragon is one of the books I push on anyone whose reading tastes are remotely similar to mine (along with anything and everything Lois McMaster Bujold, Jacqueline Carey's first Kushiel trilogy, and Julia Spencer-Fleming's mysteries). I think both of my LT Secret Santees got it last year, for example. I'm not as crazy about the later books in the series, partly because I suspect Novik likes Napoleon a lot more and Wellington a lot less than I do.
>177 _Zoe_: I stole most of that from Stephen, to give credit where credit is due. But I think you took out most of the bits I took from him. So it's like playing telephone - but on the internet!
Most non-fiction is going to university book sales, while fiction is going to Goodwill or some other charity.
>191 Ape: Stephen, that would require an address....
I don't think there's really anything worth passing on, though. I gave Nora one of my discards once and still feel sort of guilty about it, because then she had to endure the pain as well. But I'll post the list if anyone wants anything from among the low-rated fiction and out-of-date history books:
Early Greece (probably the only worthwhile thing here; a duplicate)
Greek Civilization from the Antigone to Socrates
Greek Civilization from Euripides to Alexandria
Troy and the Trojans
A History of Education in Antiquity (duplicate, bad condition)
A Scandalous History of the Roman Emperors
Royal Physician's Visit
The Passion of Artemisia
The Company of Glass
Scent of Magic
Shackle and Sword
The Shadow of Albion
A Party in San Niccolo
26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte D'Azur
Also an old thesaurus and 1991 almanac, and apparently a few other books that never made it into my catalogue and are already forgotten.
It's possible that someone else in my family has proactively managed to discard the books already, though; I'm not at home today.
Noooo don't feel bad! I like reading non-fiction that I don't agree with or think is bad. I got to sit in a park in Prague and read it and yell "Ridiculous!" and "BULLSHIT!" and "Entitled American pig!" all the time :-)
I don't enjoy reading fiction that is bad or I don't agree with. That just makes me sad.
Address? Eeeep! I was hoping you just so happened to drop them there by chance...
>195 Ape: Please explain the logic behind that one, Stephen.
Good on you for clearing out so many books, Zoe!
Oh, you are very much in my reality, though I really wish you would put clothes on when there are visitors around.
Ha! My lack of clothes is all in your head. I'm always fully-clothed when I'm on LT.
Thanks to everyone who stopped in to say hi! I'm sorry for being MIA lately. After a quick-seeming July in the Toronto area with my family, we (my parents, my boyfriend, and I) went by car to Chicago, where we had a too-short two days of sightseeing, and then BF and I continued on by train to Berkeley. When we arrived 52 hours later, I was pretty tired! Yesterday was spent mostly exploring Berkeley, until I fell asleep around 7:30--thanks to exhaustion more than jet lag, I think, since I managed to sleep until just after 7 this morning. It's been exciting, but I'm glad to be settled now into a semi-permanent home. There's no more serious moving to be done until December! Now I just need to get adjusted to the climate here. Even though I checked in advance and determined that August-December weather here is equivalent to September-October weather in Toronto, I apparently didn't fully believe it, because it was still strange when summer suddenly disappeared, and I've packed way too much summer clothing. I keep feeling cold, but it's not cold enough to turn on the heat, and so I'm just confused.
Now for a quick book update. July was a good reading month for me, consisting mostly of Temeraire rereads, and then finally the newest installment.
30. Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization. I found this to be extremely profitable reading; it helped me understand early Mesopotamian history far better than I had before, and it did so in part by applying modern theories, and approach that I generally don't find appealing but that really worked here. Maybe it's because I'm interested in modern cities as well, so when I read about, say, how Jane Jacobs' work applied to ancient Mesopotamia, I was simultaneously thinking about Toronto as well: the ideas were interesting as more than just an abstract framework for the history. Anyway, I meant to write a proper review of this at the time, and I think that's what held up all my other reviews, but I think the moment has now passed. I recommend it, anyway.
31. *Throne of Jade
33. *Black Powder War
34. *Empire of Ivory
35. *Victory of Eagles
37. *Tongues of Serpents
38. Crucible of Gold
I enjoyed reading the Temeraire books just as much the second time; even Tongues of Serpents, which I considered a very weak installment last time, was surprisingly enjoyable. And the most recent one, Crucible of Gold, was very difficult to put down. I really liked the description of the Incan civilization with dragons, and the effects on said civilizations of the diseases brought by the Europeans and the consequent loss of population. I was sort of dissatisfied with one major plot reversal that happened entirely behind the scenes, though. But on the whole, I'm happy with the way the series has progressed and am looking forward to the next one.
32. The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. This is pretty much what you'd expect from the author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality: that is, it's more of the same, this time with a focus on dishonesty. There's lots of interesting stuff here, and it's a quick read, but I occasionally found myself wanting something more. One of the best sections, in my mind, was the one dealing with pharmaceutical representatives and the lengths to which they'll go to woo clients--and I think this section was strengthened by the inclusion of stories drawn from actual interviews with these people, rather than just abstract experimental data. The clever experiments that Ariely generally describes are always interesting, but I think his works would have a bit more depth if he went further into a discussion of actual events as well.
36. Our Kind of People. This is a Vine book, so I have to write a proper review, but I found it irritating and tedious to finish. I started writing a review immediately after getting to the end, but I think I may have been too grumpy at the time, so I want to re-do it with a bit more distance. I haven't felt any enthusiasm to return to it, though, so you get the draft version for now:
As I read through Our Kind of People, I found myself comparing it to Stephanie Nolen’s similarly-themed 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa, which I read a few years ago. In the comparison, Our Kind of People comes up seriously short. It’s a small book, 240 pages of large-ish, generously-spaced type, and it just doesn’t offer the same depth as 28. Nolen’s book is organized around people, and she paints a vivid, detailed picture of each of their lives, really making the faces of the AIDS epidemic come alive. Our Kind of People is organized around general themes (stigma, sex, death), and the brief conversations that Iweala describes with various people often don’t fully manage to get across a full understanding of their lives. Maybe this is because Nolen is a journalist, while Iweala’s background is in medicine.
I think it’s worth providing a lengthy example of the sort of conversation that takes up much of Iweala’s book, so that you can quickly judge for yourself whether it’s the sort of thing you’d like to read:
‘Can we talk?’ I asked, finally relieved to have him alone and in a quiet space.
He nodded. ‘You want me to tell you what I know about the something?’ Ikenna rasped. ‘In fact I never knew about the something the first time I was very seriously feeling sick. They took me to hospital. I got OK,’ he continued as we walked away from the hospital buildings down a path trampled through the grass toward a road that looped around the hospital grounds. Gravel crunched beneath our sandals as we approached hazy shapes of bungalows set back from the road on long drives. ‘Within some weeks, it started again, and they say I should go for a test. They say it’s HIV. I say, “No, it can’t be. I have not been meddling with women for a long time.” So I resisted. I say, “No! I have to move to Kaduna to do another test.” When I got there, to one big military hospital, they tested me, and it’s the same thing. Since that time, I accepted it. It was the year 2000.’ …
At one point… I turned to him and asked, ‘Ikenna. Do you ever wish you didn’t have HIV?’
He answered very quickly. ‘No.’ … There was no hint of a fear of death.
‘Tot! Nah God gets us? Once they tell you, you have to accept. It is their job. So they told me. I have to accept….’
Needless to say, Iweala records these conversations verbatim, which does suggest a greater authenticity. But some may find the use of dialect problematic, and I do think it occasionally hindered my understanding a bit. More importantly, though, I’m not sure that the longer word-for-word recounting always adds a lot to our understanding of the issue being discussed; there were times when it just struck me as needlessly inefficient. The words that people speak in conversation don’t always make for the best narrative. Of course, it’s a tradeoff, and including direct quotes can often increase the power and poignancy of an account. I just think that Iweala takes it a bit too far, sometimes including quotes only for quotes’ sake and not because they really enhance the telling.
When it comes to Iweala’s own thoughts and analysis, I found myself largely disappointed as well. His Sex chapter in particular was a let-down, focusing more on supposed western misconceptions about Africans than on what’s actually happening in Africa today. We read, for example, that “the idea of African sexuality as Other in international dialogue begins first with accounts of Arab and Portuguese explorers in precolonial times. Themes of sexual aggressiveness, promiscuity, and strange sexual rituals addressed first in these early accounts have attached themselves to the sexualities of African and black peoples, coloring commentary on the subject for the greater part of the past millennium.” There follows a lot of discussion about how wrong various statements made by various westerners are, when I was more interested in finding out what was actually the case. It’s only after many pages have gone by saying that Africans are not actually promiscuous or immoral that we come to what for me is the real point, a partial explanation for the different paths that AIDS has taken in different parts of the world: “In the West, people tend to engage in sequentially monogamous relationships…. In sub-Saharan Africa—Nigeria included—more emphasis has been placed on the idea of concurrent partnerships, sexual relationships that overlap in time.”
Of course, there are some very thorny issues here. It can be difficult to discuss cultural differences in a purely factual way, without judgement. Clearly, many people have gotten it wrong in the past. Still, I found that Iweala came across as overly defensive, and that what he did have to say about the plain facts didn’t ultimately add anything to what I already knew from earlier reading.
Similarly, I found his discussion of access to treatment overly simplistic. In response to the question, “How is it possible that years after people were getting treatment in developed countries, they still thought it was not feasible for countries in Africa to have access to treatment?”, Iweala says, “For Doc and many other HIV/AIDS activists, the answer was that Westerners had failed to see people in Africa with HIV/AIDS as similar to ourselves and thus deserving of proper medical care.” Of course, he doesn’t attribute this idea to himself; but neither does he bother to discuss the underlying reasons in any more detail, so that this is left to stand as the sole factor responsible. And yet there are all sorts of complicated issues even within western countries themselves when it comes to access to medical care and availability of expensive drugs, so the idea that “Westerners” (as a single, stereotyped group) just didn’t think Africans deserved medical care seems overly reductionist.
39. *Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. This was a reread; I thought I'd revisit it because there was a lot of newspaper coverage lately about a Canadian who died while climbing Everest (essentially a non-story: she was told to turn back, but resisted because she was determined to reach the summit. And so she did, but she didn't make it back down). Possibly influenced by all that I'd been reading lately, or maybe just because this was a reread, I didn't find Into Thin Air as compelling the second time through. Rather than being fascinated by the story of survival, I found myself thinking more about the unnecessary hubris of the whole undertaking. There was just no reason for so many people to die. As in the case of the recent Canadian death, a lot of it was just a matter of ignoring set turn-back times, or not setting them in the first place. I found it a bit frustrating.
I hope you get settled in better soon, Zoe, and yay for lots of pretty book covers! :D
I'm glad you and BF made it to Berkeley. Yeah, the weather in the Bay area is a bit chilly in the summer (as you quickly found out). Had I moved to San Francisco when I wanted to, I don't think my curly hair back then would have liked the afternoon dampness. :)
You've done some interesting reading in the meantime. I've yet to read any of Ariely's books, but I still have his first one on my wishlist from the time you reveiwed it!
You did a pretty intensive review of Our Kind of People. Form your "draft" review, that seems like just the kind of ER book that I can never finish or review. I'm up to about four books for which I've never written a review. Yes, I feel guilty, but, no, I really don't want to go back and finish them. It on my list of "Things to do" however.
I loved Into Thin Air the first time I read it. It's not the kind of book that I would go back to reread, however.
I loved Into Thin Air too, but I have not given it a reread. I may one day though.
>210 Ape: Thanks, Stephen!
I do think all the Temeraire covers look nice together :)
Fortunately the weather has improved and is now more like what I'd expected: sunny and more or less ideal room-temperature-ish for several days in a row.
Heh, Madeline, I'm glad you have the first Ariely book on your wishlist at least!
I'm resolved to finish the Our Kind of People review one day, even if it just means slapping on a quick conclusion to what I've already written. Maybe I'll even do that tonight....
Stasia, it's good to see you back here again! Does this mean your semester is done? I seem to recall that you read other books like Into Thin Air (maybe the Boukreev one?), and I suspect that that was probably a better idea than just rereading it. It woud be interesting to see some other perspectives.
Oh, and a progress update: since I managed to read a decent number of books in July, I'm not as far behind as I was before, and might possibly still reach 75. A rough calculation (assuming July is 7/12 of the year) shows that I should have read 43.7 books by the end of that month, and I was at 38, so I'm really only six books behind. Which is still a lot to make up, but not completely inconceivable.
And then, of course, I was curious to see if I could predict what my final 36 books would be....
1. The Heavenly Writing
4. Reading and Writing in Babylon
6. House of Wisdom
7. Visible Language
8. Astral Magic in Babylonia
9. The Happiness Equation
10. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
11. The Persians
12. The Book of Negroes
13. Bringing Up Bébé
14. The Shadow Scholar
16. The Willpower Instinct
17. Ultramarathon Man
...Nope, too many to go. Maybe in a couple of months.
I was way behind on the challenge too, but then I cheated and read the Sandman series (11 graphic novels) and now I'm all caught up. :P
#216 - Haha! Glad I'm not the only one who's cheating to get their numbers up by reading graphic novels. :)
Glad to see you posting Zoe! Looks like you've been doing some really interesting reading!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ZOE! Woohoo! I hope you're having an excellent time today.
Oh, I didn't realize it was your birthday. I hope you had a great day, Zoë!
Happy Cake-Day Zoe!
Have you read The Climb? It's... well, the other side of the story of the Everest expedition. There were some complaints and criticisms about Krakauer's report, which assigned blame in places where it may not have been deserved. You may find some parts of the story much clearer in Boukreev's story -- and it was a darn good read to boot!
Thank you all for the birthday wishes!
I haven't read The Climb, but I think I'd like to one day. After reading Krakauer's strong critique in the afterword of his book, it will be interesting to see what I think of it. For now, though, I've had enough of the issue. I think the chief blame has to go to the head guides of both expeditions, Hall and Fischer; even if it was ill-advised for Boukreev to guide without supplemental oxygen (which seems likely), the ultimate responsibility goes to Fischer for selecting the guides and making sure (or not) that he was satisfied with their approach to guiding.
Meanwhile, I've been falling behind on my reading again, but I did get a few books finished in the last couple of weeks:
40. Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina. I enjoyed the similarly-themed NurtureShock earlier this year, and have also become much more interested in baby brains since my friend's not-quite-two-year-old son was diagnosed with autism a few months ago--something that I still can't quite grasp, because the kid is extremely friendly and loves people. Anyway, Brain Rules for Baby is structured a bit more as a how-to guide, with specific advice for new parents, but I found it interesting reading even without any children of my own. Medina is always careful to say what's supported by strong scientific evidence, what has weak support and requires further research, and what's just entirely unproven or even proven wrong. I'll probably revisit this one in the future when I'm actually in need of his advice.
41. Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam by Robert Hoyland. This is a time and place that was pretty much a blank to me, so I found this very useful reading. I love Routledge books in general; I can always count on them to be scholarly while remaining clear and accessible. This one was no exception, and I'd recommend it to anyone else wanting to learn about this period.
I'm now ready to move on at last to the Islamic period in The House of Wisdom ;)
42. The Lost City of Z by David Grann. I'd heard lots of good things about this book, so it was past time for me to read it. It's a very smoothly-written account of an early-twentieth-century Amazonian explorer who disappeared while looking for a city that he called Z, essentially El Dorado. It was an interesting story, but I sometimes found myself wanting to know more about the current state of knowledge about Amazonian tribes and their history; I think I'll have to pick up the heavier 1491 at some point, and maybe works by some of the other scholars who Grann references here. I'll consider reading The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, too, since I like Grann's writing style.
43. One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com by Richard L. Brandt.
I love Amazon, so I was curious to find out more about its inner workings and eagerly picked up this book as soon as I saw it on the shelf at the library. And it did provide some interesting information about who Jeff Bezos is and how Amazon got started. The thing to note, though, is that this is a business book. The author is described as “a former correspondent for BusinessWeek”, and the focus is on Amazon as a business. That means there’s lots of discussion about issues like how to fund a start-up, when to focus on growth and when to focus on profit, and how market analysts responded to Amazon over the years. These discussions were sometimes interesting and enlightening—I certainly know more about starting a business now than I did before reading the book—but I felt like they didn’t really get at the core of what makes Amazon Amazon. I would have liked to see more about the impact that Amazon has had on the consumer and on the world, not just how it succeeded as a business. The obligatory chapters were there, like the one about the Kindle, but they didn’t offer any real insights, or even the level of depth that I’d expect to find on a random blog. For example, Brandt refers to the fight over the agency model of ebook pricing, saying that “publishers are demanding that they set the retail price of the ebooks”. Yes. He then goes on to say that “retailers can then offer discounts if they want, but they have to take it out of their 30%.” No. This is completely wrong and misses the point entirely. The agency model does not allow retailers to charge a different price and absorb any losses themselves.
I almost put the book down right then, because what’s the point of reading a book about a bookstore written by a guy who has no idea what’s going on in the publishing industry? (I know, Amazon is much more than a bookstore these days, but I think the point still stands.) Since I had only 40 pages left, though, I decided to continue, but in a much sourer and more skeptical frame of mind. By the end, I was just glad that it was done.
My book-buying is so under control that there's a book I want coming out in a couple of weeks, and I don't know what else I can order with it to get the free shipping. Hmm.
#235: Adding Arabia and the Arabs to the BlackHole. Thanks for the recommendation of that one, Zoe!
Sorry I missed your birthday. I hope you had a dandy one!
I think you'll enjoy it, Stasia! And thank you for the birthday wishes :)
I just wish my local library had a copy of the book! I hate when I want to read something and the library does not have it.
On another note, I saw you mention 1491. I hope you get a chance to read it. I thought the book was very good.
Will your library order it if you ask? It's always frustrating not to be able to get the books we want! I was just looking into Brandon Sanderson's new novella Legion, which is a $13.60 hardcover on Amazon and only 88 pages long--not something that I want to buy. So I checked seven different libraries that I might reasonably use in the next six months (Berkeley, SF, New York, Brooklyn, Providence, Toronto, and Whitby), and none of them had it listed. Sigh.
I've looked at 1491 so many times in the stores, but I haven't had time to make the commitment to a hefty non-fiction book that isn't school-related. I hate having to return books to the library unread, but I can't see myself getting through that one in only three weeks. Maybe I should just buy a copy so I can go at my own pace.
We do have interlibrary loan here, but it is a pain in the butt and with school starting up again in less than 2 weeks, not something I want to do right now.
I apparently missed some messages on my own thread! Thanks for letting me know about that class, Madeline. I can't imagine that I'll have time to take it, but it's definitely very tempting. I like it that the weekly time commitment is stated upfront right there.
Stasia, I can completely understand the annoyance of ILL. That reminds me that a book I had requested finally came in last week, and I haven't even found time to pick it up yet.
I did fit in a little bit of reading, though:
44. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. I stayed up way too late finishing this book last night, which is always a good sign. This is classic Sanderson: a very interesting, highly original magic system, and sort of average writing that occasionally distracts by sounding overly contemporary. The good far outweighed the bad, in my opinion; I became very attached to the characters and absorbed in the story, though it took a little while to get there. Part of the story is told from the perspective of someone considered a god by his people, which is an interesting angle. For the rest, I'm not sure what to say without going into too much detail. I recommend it, anyway.
I think Sanderson is my favourite author who I don't actually manage to read much. I follow his blog and pay careful attention to all his upcoming books, but then they languish on my TBR shelves for ages. I'm glad I finally read this 2009 release, anyway, and maybe I'll catch up on some more soon. I think the problem started when I read but didn't love the first Mistborn book, so I wasn't in a hurry to continue with the series. It's probably at the point now where I should reread the first one, but I think I'll just go ahead with the second and see how it goes.
Warbreaker has been languishing on my TBR shelf for a couple of years now, too. My problem is that I don't have any sense of urgency when it comes to books I own, and there are always tempting library books that have to be read before their due date, so I end up not picking up stuff from my own shelves.
I really liked Warbreaker! Although I'm having a had time getting into Sanderson's Mistborn series
>245 foggidawn: I have the same problem with library books! I'm trying to get better and remind myself that there's a reason I bought certain books and just checked out others from the library. I think I may be making progress, but maybe that's only because I just moved and had to get rid of my big library stack. The new one hasn't managed to accumulate quite yet.
>246 Kassilem: I'm glad I'm not the only one who had issues getting into Mistborn! I think you've hardened my resolve to skip the reread of the first and just try to get on with things.
I totally am the same way with Sanderson. I keep hearing people rave about him and I think I buy all his books, but then I realized that I haven't read a single one of them!! I need to remedy that otherwise it just looks and sounds ridiculous. :)
That makes me feel a lot better! I'd recommend starting with Elantris. That was the first one I read, anyway, and I liked it. Plus it's a standalone.
I have 5 of Sanderson's books sitting here, and I haven't gotten to a single one. I'm planning to start with Elantris when I do, though.
Hehe, it seems like this is a common problem :D. I hope you enjoy Elantris, Roni.
I've finally gotten caught up on your thread - glad to hear your move went smoothly and that you're adjusting to life on the west coast. You're probably back in school by now, too, aren't you? I loved Lost City of Z and pleased that you liked it, too. I remember getting several recommendations for follow-up reading afterward, but I haven't sought any of them out, yet. Probably, Stasia's 1491 was one of them. Arabia and the Arabs looks good, but the library doesn't have it, or anything else by that author. I've added it to the wishlist, though, in hopes that it will cross paths with me someday in some other way.
I have really got to get to Warbreaker. I think I own it. Where it is though is the problem!
>253 alcottacre: Oh, I can understand the problem of finding books that I already own, Stasia! I think that's the thing that led me most to crack down on my book-buying lately and to start discarded unneeded books. It's so frustrating to know that I own a book and not be able to find it when I want it.
>252 sjmccreary: I'm glad you were able to catch up, Sandy! I have to admit that I'm still far behind in most threads. Yes, school has started again, and I'm attending several classes while also trying to come up with a dissertation proposal. I'll see if I can find the thread where you finished The Lost City of Z and got recommendations for other books. And I hope you manage to get your hands on Arabia and the Arabs one day.
Meanwhile, another book:
45. Safekeeping by Karen Hesse.
This YA book was not what I was expecting. The premise is that the United States has gone crazy after an extremist party has come to power and the president has been assassinated, leaving one girl to set out on her own in a search for her parents and safety. This led me to expect more action and more politics, explaining how we got from our current world to the broken world of the future. Neither of those things was really present, though. Radley doesn’t have a lot of encounters with the looters and vigilantes who are roaming the country, and the course of events leading up to the current state of affairs is never fully explained. We don’t learn any details about how the American People’s Party gained power in a political system that doesn’t exactly favour third parties, for example.
None of that turned out to matter, though. What this book mainly is, is a quietly introspective look at the things that we value. And it works very well. Radley reflects on how her parents gave her everything she needed, and wishes deeply that she had shown more appreciation. She wonders how she can make a contribution to society. And she cautiously develops new relationships in a dangerous and unfamiliar world. Looking at the themes that are developed, and how Hesse manages to do it in a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed, I can understand why she’s won a Newbury medal for her previous work.
This book also includes an element that I personally always love: setting up a home in an isolated place with minimal supplies, and developing it from a basic shelter where one struggles to survive to a comfortable place that really is a home. It reminds me of stories about homesteading, and the Boxcar Children, and people shipwrecked on desert islands. Again, the survival element is done quietly, without a lot of intense struggle, but I found it very satisfying all the same. This is a powerful book in its understated way.
>255 sjmccreary: Thanks, Sandy. It looks like I also added some books from there to my wishlist at the time, and I'll have to go through again more systematically now.
>256 avatiakh: Are there any of her books you would particularly recommend, Kerry?
46. The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I loved the premise of this book: Two high school students in 1996 get AOL for the first time and then encounter a mysterious website called Facebook where they can see into the future about what their lives will be like in 15 years. There were a bunch of times where it made me laugh out loud, especially near the beginning, because some parts were just so ridiculous. But I also got caught up in the story and found the characters likable and easy to relate to. The plot was absolutely predictable, but still sweet and satisfying. I think I'll seek out more books by these authors.
A passage that I found particularly entertaining, where the dialogue is set up more prettily to look like FB posts:
Josh Templeton: Helped my son put together a model of the solar system today.
Terry Fernandez: We did that last year. Made me feel nostalgic for Pluto. That was always my favorite planet.
Josh Templeton: Poor Pluto! :-(
I flinch. "What the hell happened to Pluto?"
Thanks for the recommendations, Kerry. I think The Music of Dolphins is one that I actually have on my shelf, so I'll probably get to that next.
Meanwhile, I've finally finished a long-overdue ER book!
47. Emerging Arab Voices. I was drawn to this book because it's described as "a bilingual reader". I've taken a few years of Arabic, so I thought that working through some of the stories here might be a good way to get in some practice. It's a lot faster to get through a text in an unfamiliar language if there's a translation provided.
Unfortunately, I only had to open this book to realize that it wasn't what I wanted. The key point for me is that the translations are not on facing pages. Instead of holding the book normally and glancing back and forth between the two versions, it was necessary to keep my place on two different pages and flip constantly back and forth between them. This was extremely annoying and I don't think I even made it through the introduction before giving up. If you're looking for a convenient dual-language book for the purposes of language practice, this isn't the one for you.
So I was left just reading the English translations of the stories, and even before I had managed to get started I heard from other reviewers that they were terrible. This had the benefit of reducing my expectations to almost nothing, so that I couldn't be disappointed. I only liked one of the eight stories, but that already meant that the book had exceeded my expectations!
That one story, by Mohammed Salah al-Azab, stood out because it was clearly written, with a straightforward narrative. Most of the stories jumped around from place to place or character to character with few threads of continuity for the reader to grasp onto. The writing tended to be vague, possibly in an attempt to sound poetic. Sometimes I just wasn't sure what was going on. There were a few stories that make me curious enough to do further research, but I would have preferred it if the stories themselves had done more to illuminate the times and places described.
My response to this collection probably isn't surprising, given the circumstances in which it was created. It's essentially the product of a writers' workshop that brought together eight promising young authors for a period of ten days. They worked intensively on their stories during that time, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the stories were ready for publication immediately afterward. It also doesn't help that several of the stories were actually intended as chapters of books, but were provided without any context.
I appreciate the thought behind this collection, but the product itself is a disappointment.
That's a fair review, Zoe. Glad you finished the book and can now move on to something else. :)
I'm glad too!
Except that I'm also in the middle of another review book that isn't very interesting. I need to be more careful in my requests.
Yeah. That's what happened to me. I got bogged down in several ER books that were mediocre and am now shy of requesting them. The one I'm readng now (the one I thought I didn't even choose!), called The Art Forger, is a good, if not great read. At least, I know I'll finish it. I'm not reading two ER books back to back again, though. I need a break between them.
By the way, I'm going to miss you at the National Book festival this year. It won't be the same without you! Hope all is going well with school (which I know it is).
When my daughter wanted to go to school in San Francisco (she'd been accepted to San Francisco State as an undergrad), I was afraid that if she ever got out to California, she'd never come back east. As it turned out, the tuition was way too expensive for us and she got a nice scholarship (which she, of course, promptly lost due to poor grades) to a state school (UMBC) here in Maryland. Now, she's in law school in Baltimore, only an hour north of here, so I get to see her often. Still, I love California...
Somehow I hadn't thought about deliberately taking a break between review books. Thanks to your comment, I set aside the other one temporarily and am reading something that I enjoy!
I hope you all have a great time at the National Book Festival. I definitely wish I could be there. Is it time to start planning the next meetup yet?
Yup, school is going well, but it's exhausting. I keep attending (auditing) more and more classes, and there's hardly any time left to do my own work! Still, I'm enjoying it and learning a lot.
I don't think anyone needs to worry that I won't return, though :)
Thanks to your comment, I set aside the other one temporarily and am reading something that I enjoy!
Don't tell Jeremy that was my suggestion. LOL!
I don't think anyone needs to worry that I won't return, though
We should have a "Welcome Back East, Zoe" meet-up then!
This topic was continued by Zoë's 2012 Challenge, Part 3.
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